National Italian American Celebrity Lifestyle Magazine
“My mission is to let the troops know that they haven’t been forgotten at home and to boost morale,” says Gary Sinise. These days that has to be far easier said than done, but maybe not to a man who always welcomes a challenge, the tougher the better.
“I make a living as an actor and have fun as a musician.”
visit: www.operationiraqichildren.org and www.ltdanband.com
By John Rizzo
Just where is the silver lining for a youngster in Iraq or Afghanistan who endures the scorching and inescapable 130° heat and the gritting sand in everything, or the almost extraterrestrial terrain? With buzzing death zipping past his head, and the knowledge that with his next step or with the next revolution of his Humvee tire he could have a limb or two blown off by an unseen RPG or an IED, just how can his morale be boosted? For one of these patriotic heroes, who apparently hangs in there for little more than to await his turn to demonstrate the greatest expression of love according to the Christian Bible (John 15:13), what else sustains him?
He hears how the majority leader of the U.S. Senate laments that the “war is lost,” and that the “peoples’ house,” the U.S. House of Representatives, has passed a resolution to “bring the troops home now.” He knows how getting the funds from Congress for his food, clothing and ammunition are like pulling teeth. He sees the mainstream media broadcasting film of terrorists actually killing American soldiers while continually harping on polls that seem to show that the vast majority of the American people think that the “war is a mistake.” He learns that his Commander-in-Chief is in the midst of a highly political confrontation over the war.
Yet in the face of all this doom and gloom, enter a spirit-lifting, heaven-sent blessing from home in the person of Gary Sinise. What a treat it must be for the poorly used and under-appreciated troops to have a celebrity of Sinise’s stature and record of achievement look them in the eye up close and assure them how much the folks back home really honor the effort and sacrifice of their sons and daughters on the deadly front lines of Iraq and Afghanistan. (The late Bob Hope had the same dedication to our soldiers in harm’s way.) Feeling that plenty of sacrifices have been made for us by our military personnel, this is Sinise’s humble way of giving something back to them.
Of course, a message is only as believable as the messenger’s credibility, and in his support of the troops no one is more credible than Gary Sinise. There is simply no other person who comes to mind who has devoted more of his time and treasure to the war effort and the well-being of the troops than the man who so many know today as Detective Mac Taylor on the hit CBS series, CSI: New York. Sinise was a participant in the first USO program in Baghdad in 2003. The next year he co-founded Operation Iraqi Children with author Laura Hillenbrand (Seabisquit: An American Legend). To date this organization has shipped tons of apparel and school supplies to children in Iraq and Afghanistan, all directly distributed by American troops.
Has Gary’s self-proclaimed mission succeeded? Yes. And how do we know? Because the reenlistment rate for all services has set a record high since the all-volunteer military began! As the most self-sacrificing non-combatant donor to the cause since 9/11, Sinise certainly deserves part of the credit. A thoughtful man as well as a caring one, he does not foresee a quick end to either
Harris, whom he met back when he performed with the Steppenwolf Theater Company, “understands how important it is for me to be here to support the troops.” Nevertheless, it is still a personal hardship, and further proof of his sense of commitment, to be away from his loving spouse on such an auspicious occasion.
It is a mark of the excellence and depth of Gary Sinise’s character that he has routinely sought out tough challenges throughout his distinguished career. His success story is not one of rags-to-riches like those of other well-known personalities. Born a fourth-generation Sicilian in Blue Island, Ill., Sinise lived briefly in Harvey, Ill. before moving at the age of 9 to Highland Park, Ill., where he grew up in relative affluence. Gary’s father, Robert, was a successful film editor who first thrived in the peculiar genre of Grade B horror movies (Blood Feast – 1963, Two Thousand Maniacs, 1964, etc.) before moving on to more conventional TV work (Baywatch, 1989). Gary could have exploited the Hollywood connections his father surely must have made, or could at least have comfortably pursued a financially rewarding professional career. But upon a somewhat late graduation from high school in 1974 he chose instead, with a couple of youthful partners, to establish a theater company, an endeavor with an almost 100 percent failure rate!
In retrospect it is not surprising that Sinise made the choice he did. At 18 he was irrevocably hooked on theater – he had been ever since a fateful incident in high school. As Gary recalls, “One day, I was standing in the hallway with some of my buddies and I guess we were real scruffy looking. Then Barbara Patterson, the drama teacher was walking past us and said that we would be perfect for some tough guys in West Side Story that was going to be put on. We knew it was about gangs and fighting and rumbling so it sounded like it would be cool to be in.” Thus began Gary’s lifelong love affair with the Theater.
The company that Gary Sinise co-founded in 1974 was the Steppenwolf Theater, which is today one of the most prestigious institutions of its kind. Again taking on the burden of leadership, Sinise served as artistic director and star actor as he guided the company through the inevitable growing pains in its formative years. Not only was he a superb stage actor but also an outstanding director, and his work attracted considerable praise and attention to himself and the company. He brought both his acting and directing talent to bear in bringing a Steppenwolf production to the screen in the 1992 remake of the film Of Mice and Men. With Sinise in the role of George, and co-starring John Malkovich as Lennie, this movie was easily as good, if not better, than the 1939 version with Burgess Meredith and Lon (Wolf Man) Chaney, Jr. (Interestingly, Gary’s dad, Robert, worked under his son as film editor for this flick.) Sinise became a superstar with his gripping portrayal of officer/ double-amputee Lieutenant Dan in Forrest Gump (1994). This was the springboard for his appearance in a number of notable film productions, including Apollo 13 (1995) and Ransom (1996). As good as he was in these Hollywood movies, Sinise possibly outdid himself in his uncannily convincing performances in the title roles of the made-for-TV movies Truman (1995) and George Wallace (1997). He has amassed a host of awards for his movie performances. Suffice it to say that he is amongst the
best of the film actors.
But the highest form of acting, and the most demanding, is stage acting. His involvement with
the 2000 Steppenwolf version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which he produced and starred in, is a tribute to Gary Sinise’s acting talent and theatrical savvy. Not only was it a hit in Chicago, but also it was widely acclaimed in London (where they know a little bit about good acting) before a triumphant run on Broadway.
Today Gary lives in California (when he’s not out entertaining the troops) with his wife and three children. He still, however, has strong ties to Chicago where he remains a member of the Steppenwolf ensemble and, of course, is a devoted Bears fan (“I went to the Super Bowl”). Unlike most of those profiled in Amici Journal, Sinise did not hesitate to plug his two favorite Italian restaurants. “I like Gianni’s (Trattoria Gianni) and Vinci best.”
Gary Sinise is a Chicago Italian-American who continues to touch our hearts in many ways – as a man of the Theater, as a musician and as a patriot. He is a man that is very thankful for the success he has had, and in sharing that with those he cares for.
There’s not a lot more than we can do to express our pride and gratitude than to wish him and his family God’s blessing and to exhort him to keep up the good work.
his efforts or the war in the Middle East. “I think it’s a war my children and grandchildren will be
fighting,” he predicts. “The main challenge for an American president, even with a Democrat in there, is to manage the war between the Islamic Jihadists and the West.” This from a man, who knows a quite a bit about challenges.
Of all the challenges faced by Gary Sinise, the challenge of leadership is most apparent in his past and current career. Many people think that leadership is a neat thing, a blessing, having the power to give orders, to tell others what to do and then reaping the lions share of acclaim for success. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Leadership is working harder than anybody else and enduring the crushing stress of taking on everybody else’s problems. When you are a hireling, taking orders, all you have to worry about is showing up on time and fulfilling your own responsibilities as best you can. But a leader has to worry about not only his performance quality but that of every one under his supervision And if anything goes wrong, with anything a subordinate might do, guess who gets the blame? Ultimately leadership can be a thankless exercise indeed.
Much of the time and money spent by Gary Sinise in his worldwide support of the American military is spent on his leadership of the Lt. Dan Band, the fifteen-person ensemble’s name taken from the character portrayed so brilliantly by Sinise in his Oscar-nominated performance in Forrest
Gump (1995). “We play 30 to 40 gigs a year,” claims Sinise, many of them at American military bases overseas. But he doesn’t make any money from this. “I make a living as an actor and have fun as a musician.” In performance Gary leads his band by being a groovin’, hard-driving bass player.
Many think that a bass player is just a sideman, a small cog in a big machine. But with any kind of a band that plays American music, the bass player is the heart and soul of the outfit, the person most responsible for the rhythm, the prime element in music. The drummer is very important to the integrity of a band’s rhythm but mainly in embellishing it. It’s the bass that lays down the beat that establishes the pulse of the music. With a weak or unsteady beat, you could have the greatest musicians and singers in the world, but the band won’t swing. Fortunately for the Lt. Dan Band, Gary is a great bass player. Especially because the group, co-founded by Chicago guitarist Kimo Williams in 2003, is essentially a funk-oriented rhythm band that boogies down with such foot-stompin’, body-pumpin’ tasties as “Feelin’ Alright” by Three Dog Night, “Purple Haze” by Jimi Hendrix and “Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd.